MoJo Author Feeds: Tim McDonnell | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en California Has the Country's Most Ambitious Climate Goals. Will They Go Up in Smoke? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last week California Gov. Jerry Brown made headlines when he announced that his <a href="" target="_blank">state would pursue the most aggressive</a> greenhouse gas emissions cuts in the nation. The new goal&mdash;to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030&mdash;is an interim step meant to help achieve a final goal set by Brown's predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.</p> <p>Exact details on how the new target will be achieved haven't yet been released, but it will likely include a combination of new clean-energy mandates and pollution reduction rules for power companies, as well as incentives for electric vehicles. That's a good place to start: Transportation and the energy sector are the two biggest portions of the state's carbon footprint, accounting for roughly 36 percent and 21 percent of emissions, respectively. Those sectors are also the two biggest in the nationwide carbon footprint, which is why President Barack Obama's climate rules have likewise focused on cars and power plants.</p> <p>But there's another slice of the carbon pie that gets very little airtime, and on which California and the United States as a whole fare very differently: land use. Trees and soil store a lot of carbon, and any time they get destroyed (logged for timber, burned in a fire, plowed for agriculture, paved over for urban development), there are associated carbon emissions. On the national level, <a href="" target="_blank">according</a> to the Environmental Protection Agency, land use is actually a carbon sink, meaning that the carbon stored by forests and other vegetation outweighs emissions from messing with them. It's no small piece; land use offsets up to 13 percent of the total US carbon footprint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (through policies such as minimizing soil erosion and limiting the conversion of forests into cropland).</p> <p>New research indicates the trend may be very different in California, contrary to conventional wisdom in the state. Since the passage of the state's first global warming legislation, AB 32 in 2006, California's carbon targets have been set with the assumption that there would be no net increase in land use emissions. The <a href="" target="_blank">greenhouse gas inventory</a> published by the California Air Resources Board, the state's air pollution regulatory agency, makes no mention of forestry or land use emissions. But a <a href="" target="_blank">peer-reviewed study</a> commissioned by CARB and published last month by the National Park Service's top climate change scientist, Patrick Gonzalez, in conjunction with the University of California-Berkeley, found that over the last decade land use in California has been a <em>source</em>, not a sink, of carbon emissions.</p> <p>Gonzalez's research aggregated,&nbsp;for the first time, a vast collection of satellite data and on-the-ground measurements to estimate how much carbon is stored in vegetation in the state. It's a pretty staggering amount: The state's 26 national parks store the rough equivalent of the average annual carbon emissions of 7 million Americans. But even more revealing was how that number has shrunk over the last decade, as wildfires, development, and agriculture chip away at forests and other "natural" landscapes. Every year, the disappearance of these carbon stocks emits about as much carbon dioxide as the city of Dallas, says Gonzalez&mdash;that's roughly 5 to 7 percent of California's total carbon footprint.</p> <p>In other words, Gonzalez says, if California wants to meet its climate targets, the state has a hole that needs to be filled with better land management. Unfortunately, climate change itself is likely to make this situation even worse. Two-thirds of the land use emissions Gonzalez identified were the result of wildfires, meaning that better managing fires&mdash;and thereby keeping carbon locked away inside forests&mdash;is a key step for reducing the state's overall emissions. Climate change makes wildfires worse by increasing the severity and frequency of droughts, and as the state's unprecedented drought enters its fifth year, experts say the wildfire season there is <a href="" target="_blank">already shaping up to be a "disaster."</a></p> <p>Overall, deforestation needs to take on a much more prominent role in the statewide climate conversation, says Louis Blumberg, director of the Nature Conservancy's climate program in California. "There's no way to meet the ambitious targets without dealing with deforestation," he says.</p> <p>A spokesperson for CARB said that the agency is still skeptical that land use is as much of a problem as the Gonzalez study indicates, and that the study likely underestimates the amount of carbon still stored in forests due to uncertainties in the satellite data. Meanwhile, bureaucratic complications have so far precluded CARB from including forests in its carbon accounting (most of the forests are managed by federal, rather than state, agencies). Still, state officials appear to be increasingly aware of the significance of land use in its climate planning. In his <a href="" target="_blank">inaugural address</a> in January, Brown discussed the need to "manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon." Both the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service are now working with state regulators to track the climate impact of deforestation and to develop policies to keep more carbon safely stored away in trees.</p> <p>Deforestation "is a new part of the puzzle," Blumberg said. "But it's essential."</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Tue, 05 May 2015 10:15:06 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274746 at We're in the Process of Decimating 1 in 6 Species on Earth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Plants and animals around the world are already suffering from the negative impacts of manmade global warming&mdash;including shrinking habitats and the spread of disease. A great number are also facing the ultimate demise&mdash;outright extinction&mdash;among them the <a href="" target="_blank">iconic polar bear</a>, some fish species, <a href="" target="_blank">coral</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">trees</a>... the list goes on.</p> <p>While most of the research on this topic so far has been piecemeal, one species at a time, a new <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> out today in <em>Science</em> offers the most comprehensive view to date of the future of extinction. The outlook is pretty grim.</p> <p>The research, conducted by evolutionary biologist Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut, analyzes 131 other scientific papers for clues about how climate change is affecting the overall rate of species extinction. The result is alarming: One out of every six species could face extinction if global warming continues on its current path. The picture is less dire if we manage to curb climate change, dropping to only 5.2 percent of species if warming is kept within the <a href="" target="_blank">internationally-agreed upon target</a> of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.</p> <p>The analysis makes clear that the climate change threat isn't necessarily a separate issue from things like habitat loss and disease; indeed, it's often climate change that is the driving force behind those impacts. The risk appears to be spread evenly across all types of plants and animals (i.e., trees, amphibians, mammals, etc.), but is more severe in geographic ares where there are more unique species and exposure to climate impacts.</p> <p>South America takes the lead, with up to 23 percent of its species threatened. One classic case study there is the golden toad, a native of mountaintop rain forests that was last seen in 1989. The toad was driven to extinction in part due to an epidemic of <em>chytrid</em> fungus (which is <a href="" target="_blank">wiping out amphibians worldwide</a>), and because climate change-related drought is destroying the forests they called home. Australia and New Zealand also ranked highly at risk, with up to 14 percent:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/extinction-map.jpg"><div class="caption">Urban, Science 2015</div> </div> <p>Urban's paper offers perhaps the most comprehensive scientific companion to a terrifying narrative made popular last year in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book <a href="" target="_blank">"The Sixth Extinction</a>," by Elizabeth Kolbert. The <em>New Yorker</em> journalist argued that when you look at the combined toll that pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change is taking on the planet's biodiversity, humans are driving extinction on a scale only preceded in the geologic record by cataclysmic natural disasters (like the meteor that likely brought about the demise of the dinosaurs). Never before has one species been responsible for the demise of so many others. (Check out our interview with Kolbert <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>).</p> <p>Still, Urban's study makes clear that many species that avoid extinction still face grave threats from climate change:</p> <p>"Extinction risks are likely much smaller than the total number of species influenced by climate change," Urban writes. "Even species not threatened directly by extinction could experience substantial changes in abundances, distributions, and species interactions, which in turn could affect ecosystems and their services to humans."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Animals Climate Change Climate Desk Science Thu, 30 Apr 2015 19:10:33 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274566 at California's Fire Season Is Shaping Up to Be a "Disaster" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Monday, 200 firefighters evacuated an upscale residential neighborhood in Los Angeles as they responded to a <a href="" target="_blank">wildfire</a> that had just broken out in the nearby hills. Ninety minutes later, the fire was out, with no damage done. But if that battle was a relatively easy win, it belied a much more difficult war ahead for a state devastated by drought.</p> <p>California is in the midst of one of its worst <a href="" target="_blank">droughts on record</a>, so bad that earlier this month Gov. Jerry Brown took the <a href="" target="_blank">unprecedented step</a> of ordering mandatory water restrictions. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is currently the <a href="" target="_blank">lowest on record</a> for this time of year. And the outlook for the rest of the year is bleak: The latest federal <a href="" target="_blank">projections</a> suggest the drought could get even worse this summer across the entire state (as well as many of its neighbors):</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="drought outlook" class="image" src="/files/season_drought.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA</div> </div> <p>That's a very bad sign for California's wildfire season. After several years of super-dry conditions, the state is literally a tinderbox. "The outlook in California is pretty dire," said Wally Covington, a leading fire ecologist at Northern Arizona University. "It's pretty much a recipe for disaster."</p> <p>To date this year, the overall national tally of wildfires has actually been below average: 14,213 fires across 309,369 acres, compared to the 10-year average of 20,166 fires across 691,776 acres, according to federal <a href="" target="_blank">data</a>. After a peak in 2006, early year wildfire activity in the last few years has been somewhat stable:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/US-bars2.jpg"></div> <p>But in California, the trend looks very different. The tally of fires so far this year is 967&mdash;that's 38 percent higher than the average for this date since 2005. The number of acres burned is up to 4,083, nearly double the count at this time last year and 81 percent above the average since 2005:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CA-bars2.jpg"></div> <p>And here again, the outlook for the rest of the summer is grim. Just look at the overlap between the map above and the map below, which shows that most of California is at above-average risk for fires this summer:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="fire outlook" class="image" src="/files/extended_outlook.jpg"><div class="caption">NIFC</div> </div> <p>This is all costing California taxpayers a lot of money. According to <a href="" target="_blank">Climate Central</a>, California typically spends more money fighting wildfires than the other 10 Western states combined, totaling roughly $4 billion over the last decade. That's partly due to the state's size and vulnerability to big wildfires, and also to the close proximity of high-value urban development to easily ignited forests and grasslands. (Wildfires in the Alaskan wilderness, by comparison, can grow <a href="" target="_blank">much bigger</a> but cost much less, because without homes or towns nearby, they're often allowed to simply burn out.)</p> <p>California burned through its $209 million firefighting budget in just a few months of this fiscal year; back in September, Brown had to <a href="" target="_blank">pull an additional $70 million</a> from a state emergency fund. A spokesperson for the state's department of finance said the wildfire budget has since been increased to $423 million. (Running way over budget on wildfires isn't unique to California; the federal government <a href="" target="_blank">routinely underestimates how much wildfires will cost</a> and ends up having to fight fires with funds that are meant to be spent <em>preventing</em> them.)</p> <p>Scientists have long predicted that an increase in both the frequency and severity of wildfires is a likely outcome of global warming. The Obama administration's National Climate Assessment last year <a href="" target="_blank">cited wildfires</a> as one of the key threats posed to the United States by climate change. Longer periods of drought mean wildfire "fuels" like grass and trees will be drier and easier to burn; at the same time, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means these same fuels will accumulate more quickly. And there's a feedback loop at play: Deforestation caused by wildfires contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that the increasing threat of wildfires will make climate change worse.</p> <p>When it comes to wildfires, Covington said, "with increased climate change, there's a train wreck coming our way."</p> <p>For a more detailed explanation of the link between climate change and wildfires, watch the original Climate Desk video below:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Thu, 30 Apr 2015 10:15:05 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274396 at Chipotle Says It's Getting Rid of GMOs. Here's the Problem. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Chipotle announced this week that it will stop serving food made with genetically modified organisms. The company <a href="" target="_blank">wants you to think</a> the decision is "another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food," apparently because GMOs are regarded with at best suspicion and at worst total revulsion by lots of Americans.</p> <p>There's data to support that notion: A Pew poll released earlier this year found that <a href="" target="_blank">less than 40 percent</a> of Americans think GMOs are safe to eat.</p> <p>Here's the thing, though: GMOs are totally safe to eat. Eighty-eight percent of the scientists in that same poll agreed. As longtime environmentalist Mark Lynas pointed out in the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York Times</em></a> recently, the level of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs is comparable to the scientific consensus on climate change, which is to say that the disagreement camp is a rapidly diminishing minority. Lynas also made the equally valid point that so-called "improved" seeds have a pretty remarkable track record in improving crop yields in developing countries, which translates to a direct win for local economies and food security. (Although there is <a href="" target="_blank">evidence</a> that widespread GMO use can lead to an increased reliance on pesticides.)</p> <p>But there's an even more important reason why Chipotle's announcement is little more than self-congratulatory PR, even if you think that GMOs are the devil. As former <em>MoJo</em>-er Sarah Zhang <a href=";utm_source=gizmodo_twitter&amp;utm_medium=socialflow" target="_blank">pointed out at <em>Gizmodo</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>For the past couple of years, Chipotle has been getting its suppliers to get rid of GM corn and soybean. Today&rsquo;s "GMO-free" announcement comes as Chipotle has switched over to non-GMO corn and soybean oil, but it <em>still </em>serves chicken and pork from animals raised on GMO feed. (Its beef comes from pasture-fed cows.) A good chunk of the GM corn and soybeans grown in America actually goes to feed livestock, so a truly principled stance against GMOs should cut out meat from GM-fed animals, too.</p> </blockquote> <p>The same caveat applies to soda, which is also made mostly from corn.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Food and Ag Tech Tue, 28 Apr 2015 20:08:40 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274441 at How the Fukushima Disaster Crippled Japan's Climate Plans <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Japan used to have a pretty good reputation on climate change. Thanks to its robust industrial economy, it has the fourth-largest carbon footprint in the G20 nations. But it gets a sizable chunk of its power from zero-carbon sources like hydro dams and, at least until the 2011 disaster at Fukushima, nuclear plants. And in 2009, the country agreed, along with the other G8 nations, to reduce its carbon emissions <a href=";sid=ap.khhvfpr2M" target="_blank">80 percent by 2050</a>.</p> <p>Back in 1992, Japan played host to the negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol, the first time a group of countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it was a groundbreaking agreement. But today, in the context of a decade and a half of additional scientific research, policy advances, and public pressure, it's woefully insufficient to ward off the worst effects of climate change. That's why the international community is planning to craft a new agreement to replace it in Paris later this year. And this time around, Japan isn't looking so hot.</p> <p>Today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Washington to <a href="" target="_blank">address Congress</a> about his plan to expand his country's military operations in Asia. He'll also meet privately with President Barack Obama. <a href="" target="_blank">According to the White House</a>, climate change is on the agenda. It seems likely that the two leaders will discuss what Japan plans to bring to the table in Paris: Last week deputy national security adviser Caroline Atkinson <a href="" target="_blank">told reporters</a> that one of the main goals of the meeting is "to help build momentum towards a successful and ambitious climate agreement." The United States met a United Nations deadline at the end of March to announce its <a href="" target="_blank">carbon contribution</a>&mdash;that is, how much it will be willing to cut its carbon footprint&mdash;in preparation for the Paris talks. But a month after the deadline, Japan has yet to make an official announcement (some disappointing clues have leaked out; more on that in a minute).</p> <p>In fact, recently Japan has found itself at the center of several unflattering climate stories. Last year, the country <a href="" target="_blank">pledged $1.5 billion</a> to a UN-controlled fund that aims to help poor nations adapt to climate change. But a couple of months later, the Associated Press <a href="" target="_blank">revealed</a> that a separate pot of money Japan designated as "climate finance" actually contained $1 billion in investments in coal-fired power plants overseas. In March, the AP uncovered another half billion dollars of coal investments that Japan had labeled as climate finance. The Japanese government maintained that the funds were in fact climate-friendly, because even though coal is indisputably the greatest source of carbon emissions, these funds went toward cutting-edge coal technology that is cleaner than what might have been built otherwise.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2015/04/fukushima-climate-shinzo-abe-obama"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Energy International Top Stories Infrastructure Tue, 28 Apr 2015 10:20:05 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274276 at There's a Fight Brewing Over Who Profits From Solar Power <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In the ongoing wars over solar energy, one power company is consistently painted as the archetypal, mustache-twirling nemesis of clean electricity: Arizona Public Service. So you might be surprised to learn that this same company is about to become a big new producer of rooftop solar power.</p> <p>APS is an unlikely solar patron: In the summer of 2013, the Phoenix-area utility launched a <a href="" target="_blank">campaign to weaken</a> Arizona's net metering rule, which requires utilities to buy the extra solar power their customers generate and provides a major incentive for homeowners to install rooftop panels. A few months later, APS <a href="" target="_blank">admitted giving cash</a> to two nonprofits that ran an anti-solar ad blitz in the state. Early this year, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that a letter criticizing the solar industry's business practices, sent by members of Congress to federal regulators, was originally <a href="" target="_blank">authored by an employee of APS</a>. And a couple weeks ago, APS asked state regulators to let the company <a href="" target="_blank">quadruple the fees</a> it tacks on to the monthly bills of solar-equipped homeowners.</p> <p>It makes sense that the company would be worried about solar's epic takeoff. In many ways, the solar boom poses an unprecedented threat to big electric utilities, which have done business for a century with essentially zero competition. In the first quarter of this year, applications for solar permits in APS's service area were <a href="" target="_blank">112 percent higher</a> than the same period last year, and every one of those is one less customer for APS's regular power supply, <a href=",%20Arizona%20Public%20Service%204-25-13.pdf" target="_blank">40 percent</a> of which comes from coal. Now the company thinks it has found a solution to the problem: It wants to start owning its own rooftop solar.</p> <p>In December, the Arizona Corporation Commission gave a <a href="" target="_blank">green light</a> to APS to plunk down $28.5 million on 10 megawatts of solar panels, enough to cover about 2,000 of its customers' roofs. (Tucson Electric Power, another utility in the state, was also approved for a smaller but similar plan.) The idea is that APS will target specific rooftops it wants to make use of&mdash;in areas where the grid needs more support, for example, or west-facing roofs, which produce the most power in the late afternoon, when demand is the highest. APS would offer homeowners a $30 credit on their monthly bill, according to Jeff Guldner, an APS vice president for public policy.</p> <p>The credit essentially serves as rent for the roof, where an APS-contracted local installer will set up a solar array. APS owns the panels, can use the power however it wants, and gets to improve its clean energy portfolio without losing customers to third-party solar companies. Meanwhile, the homeowner gets a lower bill.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2015/04/new-front-solar-wars-who-owns-panels-your-roof"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Tech Top Stories Infrastructure Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:15:10 +0000 Tim McDonnell 273971 at Obama Just Called Out Florida's Climate Deniers in Their Own Backyard <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Barack Obama just marked Earth Day with a speech on climate change, given from a podium in Florida's Everglades National Park. The choice of venue was appropriate from an environmental perspective&mdash;the Everglades is <a href="" target="_blank">already acutely feeling the impacts of sea level rise</a>&mdash;but it was also telling from a political standpoint. Although our swampiest national park has a <a href="" target="_blank">long history of bipartisan support</a>, it's located in a state that has recently produced some of the most absurdist climate denial in recent memory&mdash;and Obama didn't forget to mention it.</p> <p>Florida is home not just to Sen. Marco Rubio, a GOP presidential contender who <a href="" target="_blank">maintains that humans can't affect the climate</a>, but also to Gov. Rick Scott, who landed in headlines last month after <a href="" target="_blank">apparently barring state employees</a> from talking about climate change.</p> <p>"Climate change can no longer be denied," Obama said today. "It can't be edited out. It can't be omitted from the conversation&hellip;Simply refusing to say the words 'climate change' doesn't mean climate change isn't happening."</p> <p>Obama also took a jab at Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) for <a href="" target="_blank">bringing a snowball</a> onto the Senate floor. "If you have a coming storm, you don't stick your head in the sand," he said. "You prepare for the storm."</p> <p>You can watch the full speech below (starts at 48:00):</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Obama Science Top Stories Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:05:44 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274081 at Scott Walker Celebrates Earth Day by Proposing To Fire 57 Environmental Agency Employees <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Happy Earth Day! Today is a day we can all band together and share our love for this beautiful planet&mdash;or at least drown our sorrows about climate change with <a href="" target="_blank">nerdy themed cocktails</a>. Later today, President Barack Obama will mark the occasion with a <a href="" target="_blank">climate-focused speech</a> in the Florida Everglades. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, had a different idea: Fire a big chunk of the state's environmental staff.</p> <p>From the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Fifty-seven employees of the state Department of Natural Resources began receiving formal notices this week that they might face layoff as part of Gov. Scott Walker's budget for the next two fiscal years&hellip;</p> <p>The DNR's scientific staff conducts research on matters ranging from estimating the size of the state's deer herd to to studying the effects of aquatic invasive species. Work is paid for with state and federal funds&hellip;</p> <p>All told, Walker's budget would cut 66 positions from the DNR. Of this, more than 25% would come from the science group. Cosh said a smaller number of employees received notices than the 66 positions in the budget because some positions targeted for cuts are vacant.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's no secret that a signature tactic in <a href="" target="_blank">Walker's controversial environmental record</a> has been to degrade the DNR, which in addition to carrying out research is tasked with regulating the state's mining industries. Still, the timing of this particular announcement is striking. I guess no one marked Earth Day on Walker's calendar.</p> <p>Neither Walker's office nor DNR immediately returned requests for comment.</p> <p>As consolation for this depressing news, here's is a <a href="" target="_blank">webcam of pandas</a> at the San Diego Zoo.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Scott Walker Top Stories Wed, 22 Apr 2015 17:48:21 +0000 Tim McDonnell 274051 at We Didn't Learn Anything From Deepwater Horizon—And We're Going to Pay For It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today is the <a href="" target="_blank">fifth anniversary</a> of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, an event that triggered the nation's worst-ever oil spill. The well leaked for three months and dumped over 200 million gallons of oil into the sea. The explosion itself killed eleven men; the resulting pollution killed a stupefying amount of wildlife, including 800,000 some birds. And despite billions paid out by BP in fines and restoration costs, the economic impact of the disaster remains wide-reaching and <a href="" target="_blank">ongoing</a>.</p> <p>But possibly even more outrageous than the spill itself is how little has been done by government to prevent a similar disaster. The oil and gas industry has stayed active in Washington, and managed to fend off serious efforts to curb drilling: Congress has passed zero new laws&mdash;not one&mdash;to restrict offshore drilling or force it to be safer. The Obama administration has approved over 1,500 offshore drilling permits since the spill. And back in January the administration <a href="" target="_blank">announced a plan</a> to open <em>new</em> areas in the Atlantic and Arctic for offshore drilling. As my colleague Tim Murphy <a href="" target="_blank">noted today</a>, Louisiana's oversight of the oil industry is rife with ludicrous conflicts of interest that raise serious doubts about the state's ability to make drilling safer.</p> <p>In other words, the wounds from BP are scarcely healed, but we're pushing deeper and deeper into offshore drilling.</p> <p>In fact, well construction in the Gulf is <em>literally</em> pushing into deeper water, where the risks of a spill are even greater. <a href="" target="_blank">From an AP investigation</a> pegged to the anniversary:</p> <blockquote> <p>A review of offshore well data by the AP shows the average ocean depth of all wells started since 2010 has increased to 1,757 feet, 40 percent deeper than the average well drilled in the five years before that...</p> <p>Drillers are exploring a "golden zone" of oil and natural gas that lies roughly 20,000 feet beneath the sea floor, through a 10,000-foot thick layer of prehistoric salt...</p> <p>Technology now allows engineers to see the huge reservoirs beneath the previously opaque salt, but the layer is still harder to see through than rock. And it's prone to hiding pockets of oil and gas that raise the potential for a blowout.</p> </blockquote> <p>Drilling in the Gulf makes up less than <a href="" target="_blank">one-fifth</a> of US crude oil production, and an even smaller share of total oil production if you count unconventional oil from fracking. So it wouldn't be a crippling blow to our energy supply to consider putting the brakes on offshore drilling&mdash;if not forever, at least until we feel secure that we've done enough to prevent another Deepwater Horizon.</p> <p>Meanwhile, our expansion into deeper and riskier drilling is happening even though there are still <a href="" target="_blank">an average of two offshore drilling accidents <em>every day</em></a>.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Infrastructure Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:13:43 +0000 Tim McDonnell 273921 at The BP Oil Spill Happened 5 Years Ago Today. We're Still Paying the Price. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago today, <a href="" target="_blank">killing 11 men</a> and sending nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the sea. After the well was finally plugged, the national media went home, but the story is still very much unfolding everywhere from <a href="" target="_blank">federal courtrooms</a> to <a href="" target="_blank">Louisiana backyards</a>.</p> <p>Let's have a look back at the nation's worst-ever oil spill, by the numbers:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-spill_0.jpg"></div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-response_0.jpg"></div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-cost_0.jpg"></div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-animals_1.jpg"></div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-economy_1.jpg"></div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BP-cards-aftermath_0.jpg"><div class="caption">Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p><em>Icon credits (via Noun Project unless otherwise noted): Oil barrel&mdash;Marco Hernandez; leaky pipe&mdash;Evan Udelsman; airplane&mdash;Luis Prado; boat&mdash;Kevin Chu; cash&mdash;Natalie Clay; eviction&mdash;Luis Prado; money paper&mdash;Alex Tai; pelican&mdash;Jennifer Gamboa; birds&mdash;Joe Looney; dolphins&mdash;Matthew Hall; oil spill&mdash;Andrew Hainen; permit&mdash;Luis Prado; oil rig&mdash;Patrick Trouv&eacute;; tourist&mdash;Jerald Kohrs; oyster&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">RedKoala/Shutterstock</a></em></p></body></html> Environment Cards Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Top Stories Infrastructure Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:58:03 +0000 Tim McDonnell 273861 at